Osama Bin Laden's Death: $25 Million Reward Likely to Remain Secret Forever

After a payment is made, a classified report will be provided to Congress.

May 4, 2011, 10:36 AM

May 5, 2011 — -- Though Osama bin Laden is dead, it is unclear if anyone will receive any of the $25 million reward for his capture. That's due to the confidentiality of the Rewards for Justice Program, an interagency program administered by the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

"Given the importance of confidentiality to the Rewards for Justice Program, we can't comment on whether anyone has been nominated for a reward or in this or in any given case," said Harry Edwards, a spokesperson for the State Department.

Since its beginning, the program has paid more than $100 million to more than 60 people with information that "prevented international terrorist attacks or helped bring to justice those involved in prior acts," according to the Rewards for Justice website. Most of that money has been paid since the attacks on Sept. 11.

The law that started the program, the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism, states that "no reward…may exceed $25,000,000, except as personally authorized by the Secretary of State."

The State Department coordinates with various military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, to administer the program. After a payment has been made, the program provides a classified report to Congress, according to the program's website.

Matt Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the purpose of the Rewards for Justice program is "to try to highlight, expose and also try to get people to come forward, in those cases where it's possible, to give information leading to capturing people."

He said capturing bin Laden was "always a long shot," though for other cases, the program has "worked very well."

"It all depends on how insular the network is," Levitt said. "The more based on family and tribal and very tightly-knit allegiances are the less likely it will work."

Photos: FBI's Most Wanted List

The State Department administers separate rewards programs for drug lords and war criminals. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs runs the Narcotics Rewards Program. The Office of War Crime Issues works with United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for information about war criminals, for example, in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

With bin Laden's death, there are now 43 people on the program's "Wanted" list of international terrorists, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born doctor who is believed to be bin Laden's successor. Bin Laden is still included in the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives List.

Most of those on the current State Department terrorist list have rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to their capture. Though al-Zawahiri and bin Laden had the highest reward amounts -- up to $25 million on the most recent list -- the largest payment to date was $30 million paid to one individual with information that led to the death of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, in 2003, according to the program's website.

Although each suspect on the list has a reward amount maximum, the State Department has a deliberative process to determine the value of an informant's information.

Reward for Bin Laden Capture: Committee Debates Value of Information

The Interagency Rewards Committee makes a recommendation of the worth of the information to the Secretary of State, who may consult with the Attorney General, Edwards said. In other words, if a U.S. investigative agency, such as the Department of State, FBI, or Defense Department nominates an individual for providing information that led to the capture of bin Laden, that individual will not automatically receive the maximum $25 million, if anything.

So don't call it a bounty.

"The Rewards for Justice pays rewards for information," Edwards said. "It does not pay bounties. In fact, the Department of State strongly discourages bounty hunters and other non-governmental individuals from pursuing the capture of terrorists."

Another reward for bin Laden's capture is $2 million offered by the Air Transport Association (ATA) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The State Department started that reward in 1990 after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, in which a bomb killed 243 passengers and 16 crew members on Pam Am Flight 103 flying over Scotland from London to New York.

The ATA, which describes itself as the nation's oldest and largest airline trade association, agreed to participate in 1990 in the program. It can contribute up to $1 million if requested by the State Department. The organization paid once in 1991 for $100,000 related to a foiled plot in Thailand, according to a source at the ATA.

ALPA, which calls itself the largest airline pilots' union in the world, also agreed to participate by matching a reward approved by the State Department up to $1 million if requested.

The State Department has not yet contacted the ATA or APLA to contribute to the reward for bin Laden, according to the ATA and ALPA.